The classic bleach bottle buoy isn’t as common as it once was, but there are still plenty of private buoys on the lakes, marking hidden rocks or keeping boats away from water lines. But do you know what you need to do with yours come winter?
Like most things on the water, buoys are governed by the Canada Shipping Act, and there are specific regulations for private buoys.
Transport Canada has published a 28-page user’s guide to private buoys, which is available online.
In essence, a buoy needs to be at least six inches wide and 12 inches high, should be made of material that is durable and yet not likely to cause damage to a boat if it’s struck (so floating propane tanks are not a great idea), and it needs to be clearly marked with your name and contact information. You also need to write PRIV in capital letters on two sides of the buoy, to clarify that this is a private buoy.
Private buoys can vary in size, shape, colour, and display markings, but they need to conform to the same system that is used for official buoys. So if you’re marking a channel and placing red or green buoys, they need to be placed the same way the coast guard would place them – red to the right if you’re going upstream, green to the left.
Buoys that mark a swimming area should be all white; hazards are marked by white buoys with an orange diamond shape; mooring buoys are white with an orange horizontal line at the top, etc. Essentially your best bet is to buy pre-made rigid plastic foam or molded plastic buoys. They’re readily available, lightweight and are easy to install and handle, and come with all the markings on them already.
Before placing a buoy in the water, you need to be sure that it conveys accurate navigational information, and meets the size, shape, and identification requirements. The buoy has to be anchored in position and may not interfere with a vessel’s path or mislead a boater.
Once the buoys are in place, they need to be maintained and monitored to ensure they stay in position and continue to meet all legal requirements: if you place a buoy, it’s your responsibility to monitor it.
So what do you do in winter? The best bet is to do what the government does, and remove it. There’s nothing preventing you from leaving a buoy in place over the winter, but a large one could be a hazard to snowmobiles who won’t be expecting to encounter a frozen buoy as they zip across the ice on a January night.
You can view it as just one more thing to add to your autumn to-do list, or treat it as an excuse to take the boat out on the lake one more time before the season ends.